CBA Finals preview: Are the Flying Leopards shoo-ins for the title?
Published: Apr 19, 2022 05:44 PM
With the CBA Finals set to begin on Wednesday, fans of the Liaoning Flying Leopards have already been waiting agog, picturing their home team's sure-fire road to the title.

The regular-season titleholders face the Zhejiang Lions in the upcoming best-of-seven series after overwhelming defending champions the Guangdong Southern Tigers 3-0 in the best-of-five semifinals.

Winning 11 of their 12 CBA playoff matchups, Liaoning has a big psychological advantage over their opponents. 

They are also trying to repeat events from the 2017-18 season where they swept Zhejiang 4-0 in the last round and claimed their first-ever CBA title.

Though Zhejiang, who sat behind ­Liaoning in the regular season, advanced into the finals after a 3-0 ­semifinal victory, they are facing a bumpy road ahead.

Star center Hu Jinqiu, MVP of the regular season, will be absent with a ruptured spleen, which will be a big blow to Zhejiang on both offensive and defensive ends.

Rubbing salt into the wound, Zhejiang is likely to have Zhao Yanhao out for a few days, as the 24-year-old guard suffered a concussion in the last game of the semifinals.

Whether Jahlil Okafor, the former NBA No.3 pick, can step up to protect the paint and switch well will be essential to Zhejiang's defense, as ­Liaoning has strong firepower from its forward and fierce attacks from star guard Guo Ailun, who is eager to bag his second championship.

Zhang Zhenlin of ­Liaoning is also expected to showcase his aggressiveness. The 23-year-old forward has been in high spirits after notching a match-leading 33 points in the last semifinal game, helping his team take a comeback win over Guangdong.

Zhejiang will heavily rely on offensive attacks launched by guard Sun Minghui who averaged 32 points plus 7.7 assists per game in the semifinals, but they have to make extra plans for second-choice players as Sun will conceivably encounter a double-team defense.

"We are back in the Finals after four years, and I have to be stronger," the 25-year-old rising star wrote on China's Twitter-like Sina Weibo. "I will keep moving forward with our goal, and focus on what we should do," he added.

"Liaoning seems to be the best team in terms of overall strength, but we will be prepared and try our best to fight in every game," Zhejiang forward Zhu Junlong told reporters after the semifinals, hoping the team can maintain their morale and push on.

Zhejiang can hardly afford to make mistakes in the final battle, yet the underdog may play without pressure and stun their opponents as they have little to lose.

For Liaoning, staying focused and not taking their opponents lightly should be the winning formula, as the powerhouse once had painful lessons when they unexpectedly lost to Sichuan, a young CBA side with only three seasons' experience in the top flight, in the 2015-16 season finals.